The death of Peter Reading back in November of last year has prompted me to revisit some of his work. My favourite stuff is his early work – collections such as For the Municipality’s Elderly, Nothing for Anyone and Fiction. He’s often criticised for being miserablist and cynical, though closer reading often reveals elements of humour and tenderness, plus in the early work a somewhat prophetic pre-occupation with environmental issues. And he has a real formal versitility and skill, something which is so often lacking in much poetry. He’s not an easy poet to read – sometime becuase of the subject matter, but often because of the referential complexities of the poems. Mind you, it’s worth the effort, I think. Interesting too that a poet of such considerable standing lived a pretty ordinary life, spending a lot of it working as a weighbridge operator. He claimed that this kind of life gave him room and time to think. It’s something I can certainly sympathise with – having spent some time doing lots of “creative writing” teaching and such like, it can leave you with little energy for your own writing if you aren’t careful.
I never met Peter Reading and always had the idea he was a rather fearsome character – partly due to the poems and partly due to his reputation for “enjoying a drink.” He once reviewed a book of mine in the TLS. When I heard about it, I was reluctant to read it, thinking he’d have no sympathy with my stuff. However, he was very kind and seemed to understand what I was trying to do.
Nice article from the TLS, Remembering Peter Reading